Why I don’t like Jackson’s “The Two Towers” (I)
Originally posted March 2004
Thanks to Bob and George for thoughtful reasoning and feedback.
src=”http://rcm-images.amazon.com/images/G/01/rcm/120×240.gif” >width=”120″ height=”240″ border=”0″ usemap=”#boxmap-p8″ alt=”Shop >at Amazon.com”>Please be warned there are spoilers in this review.
I noticed in the paper today how many Oscars were won by Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movies, which were based on J. R. R. Tolkien’s fantasy trilogy. I’ve also seen Return of the King, the last of the movies. While watching, I found myself idly speculating on whether life is imitating art, or art life. By the end of the movie, I’d have to say I very much do not want life to imitate Jackson’s vision.
Life, Art, Life…
Tolkien wrote an epic fantasy of the ending of an age and the triumph of good over evil due to the unexpected courage of the small and unimportant as well as the bravery of the noble and impressive, which was quite possibly based on worried extrapolations of the times he was in. He’d already lost most of his contemporaries to the horrors of World War I, and he was writing to his son, off in the battlefields of World War II.
The trilogy had a truly huge cultural impact, apparently far surpassing Tolkien’s wildest expectations. Now we have Peter Jackson’s movie renditions of the books… and it looks like we’ll be starting another round of cultural influence.
From what I’ve seen of this so far, other personal experience, and scholastic studies, it looks like art and life are too intermingled to say one or the other is the sole driving force. Media affects culture just as much as culture affects media — and both are affected by, and affect, the populace. Ideally, they all enhance and enrich each other. Ideally.
Given that, I try to make sure the small amount of media I put out is interesting and well considered. It may only interest a small niche group, and my opinions are but the opinions of one among many, but I’ll still do my best to think and share my thoughts as well and clearly as I can.
My goal is to promote thoughtful consideration, to entertain, to amuse myself. It is not to manipulate others to my way of thinking, any more than Tolkien’s was.
I think that’s why I was ultimately so disappointed in Jackson’s The Two Towers, although it took me a while to put my finger on the reason why. It wasn’t that Jackson had departed so radically from the books — it was his blatant attempts to manipulate his audience, and to do so at the cost of the dignity of a particular group of society.
I refer to the scenes of the battle at Helm’s Deep. In the movie all boys over the age of 13 or so were drafted into the army to help hold the walls, while all the women were sent below with the children.
They did what?!
Let’s think about this logically. These very young boys were portrayed as lightly built, insecure, and untrained. Some had apparently never picked up a sword before, let alone worn armor. There weren’t very many of them; they were frightened and had no real reason to defend the walls, other than to save their lives.
The women, on the other hand, were shown as numerous, sturdy, and strong. Furthermore, they had extremely good reasons to defend the walls ruthlessly — their children and families were behind those walls.
Why were the stronger and more effective, more numerous women sent off with the children, while what were (in effect) nothing more than a selected handful of the frightened children were kept at the walls?
Of course, the obvious answer is that it is written thusly in the books, but as you pointed out The Two Towers contains the most, and most egregious, deviations from the original text. We’re supposed to give Jackson credit for greatly expanding Arwyn’s part, and in his defense the female characters in the books are few and far between, but even then she’s given a ‘traditional’ role as the long lost love, pining hopelessly for her man. Eowyn is the only woman in the cast who’s role was not significantly altered, but even in her courage and fortitude Tolkien had to have her fall in love with Aragorn while no other character fell in love with anybody.(well, except Gimli for Galadriel, and that was a very different dynamic) It is a conundrum, since misogyny and indifference toward women was/is commonplace in Europe and elsewhere, and Jackson related the Helm’s Deep situation much as it is in the book, but I agree it would have been nice to see a bit of a more equitable distribution of the sexes.
Actually, Jackson emphatically did not relate the Helm’s Deep situation as it is in Tolkien’s works. In the book, the entire battle with the orcs at Helm’s Deep was to hold a fortress from which the women and children had already departed. There were only warriors left in the fortress; the women and children had already been sent away to safety — not tucked into the dungeons below, the way Jackson portrayed them, as a sort of “game prize” to the winners.
That’s what I object to most: Jackson’s reduction of women to the status of helpless, hopeless children, in order to get a rise out of his audience.
As I note above: more tomorrow. ;)